"I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.” ~ Virginia Woolf
I am not a fan of keeping my ferrets in cages, either when we're out or at night.
I used to put the ferrets in the cage when we had guests for lunch or dinner. However, since having the carpet ripped up and the wooden floor put down, I tend to just close the bedroom door with the ferrets inside.
Some people maintain that it’s much safer to have the ferrets locked up at night or when you’re out of the house, and that certainly would be the case if you were sharing a house with friends.
Another reason for caging ferrets when you're out is that if there’s a major drama, like a fire, you'd be able to know exactly where your ferret was situated and could rescue it. That, too, is a point to consider.
When our kids were living at home, they weren’t as observant going in and out of doors as I would have liked and we did have a few scares when the ferrets went walkabout because of a lack of attention. A missing ferret is not good for one’s health, believe me!
Obviously the choice is yours and if you do decide to get a cage, then make sure you consider these points.
Must be roomy, airy and preferably multi-leveled so that you can have the litter tray and food/water dishes on separate floors to the sleeping quarters.
Make sure the cage is sturdy and that the holes aren’t too big. REMEMBER – ferrets are like Houdini and can get out through some very small openings. The last thing you’d want is to come home and find your cage empty, and your ferret gone. Very bad for the BP!
If the floors are mesh, get some vinyl off cuts to put down on the mesh so that the ferret doesn’t hurt its feet.
Make sure you position the cage in an area where there is no direct sunlight to heat the cage up. REMEMBER -- ferrets aren’t able to sweat so can get heat stroke easily if the temperatures get hot.
Check that the area is well ventilated and not drafty during winter.
Do NOT keep your ferret in an aquarium or small rabbit cage.
For those of you who are thinking about what kind of cage to get for your new friend, there are some featured here, which might be helpful in giving you some ideas.
If you reckon your ferret has to be kept outside
make sure the cage is placed in a shady area.
make sure the cage is both draft and water proofed.
The cage should be roomy and well ventilated, and should have an enclosed area (sleep box) for the ferrets to sleep in.
Make sure the ferrets can’t wriggle out through any openings or open the door.
If the floor of the cage is mesh, get vinyl off cuts to put down so the the ferret doesn’t hurt its feet.
Do NOT use wood shavings or chips as a covering for the floor. Certain wood shavings can cause respiratory problems so play safe and don't use any!
A heavy food dish.
A water bottle with a spout to attach to the cage. This is better than having a bowl of water in the cage because as sure as eggs are eggs, it will get tipped over and you’ll be left to clean up the mess.
A hammock, or two even. Depends on how many levels your cage has.
Old cotton T-shirts, sweaters or tracksuits make great bedding but whatever you choose, make sure the ferret can't catch its nails on the material.
Case in point ... just last night we had a minor drama connected with our ferrets’ bedding. I had an old cotton doona (quilt) cover lining one of the drawers for our ferrets and a single bedsheet on top of that.
I woke up because of a commotion in the chest of drawers – it was really weird, almost as if one of the ferrets had got stuck behind the back of the chest of drawers and was scratching to get out.
Turning on the light, I saw Snoopy looking all worried as she peered from the bottom drawer so I pulled the drawer above out and found Muis and Kahlua also looking anxious. No Kaos so it was obvious that she was making that strange noise.
I woke Philip up and he got down on his hands and knees and found that Kaos’ collar had caught on a frayed bit of the doona cover and was off her neck. However she had managed to catch her nail in the little hole in the bell, so was unable to free herself as she launched herself out of the drawer, so was banging and crashing around.
I got scissors and cut the collar free, and Philip gently unhooked her nail out of the hole and everything was good. But just think of how stressed the poor girl would have been if that had happened when we were out!
The doona cover got thrown out there and then!
So please keep an eye out on the condition of the bedding when you wash it so that nothing similar happens to you. You can always go down to the Good Sammy or St Vinnie’s or any other secondhand store and buy a number of cheap T-shirts or sweats to use for the bedding so there’s no excuse to keep old and frayed stuff.
WARNING - please be careful if using quilted material for bedding. Someone wrote to me to say her ferret made a hole in a quilt, got inside then couldn't get out and suffocated, another owner told me her ferret almost suffocated the same way. Read the
page for more about that.
A high sided litter tray or two, depending on how many ferrets are in the cage. I use the pelleted litter made from recycled newspaper because it’s very absorbent and certainly keeps the smell down.
Do NOT use clumping litter. Ferrets tend to scoot on their backsides after pooping or piddling and there’s a very real danger that the clumping litter can cause problems.
Do NOT leave your ferret in a cage and forget about it. You MUST be prepared to let it out for a couple of hours morning and evening and interact with it, otherwise don’t get one.
’Free Range’ Ferrets
For those of you who prefer to have your weasels in your house 24/7, here are a couple of tips which might help keep your place clean.
~ Be aware that ferrets wake up and need to use the bathroom immediately but rather than leaving litter trays in corners where they normally go, put sheets of newspaper down. You won’t have lots of litter scattered on the floor and you can change the newspaper frequently, so that’ll keep the smell away.
~ There are times when ferrets don’t back into a corner when pooping. They’ll just poop in the middle of the room, for some reason.
Go to Kmart (or Walmart or any other cheap department store) and buy a 12-pack of cheap loo rolls and use them to pick up any little accidents around the house. Way cheaper than using Sorbent or Kleenex.
~ If you have your ferret sleeping somewhere in your bedroom, it's a good idea to go to a hardware store and get 4 planks of wood. Fix them to each side of your bed, so that the ferret can't get underneath. That way you won't ever have problems of trying to clean up under the bed.
I’ve seen a number of toys which are marketed especially for ferrets in pet stores but do you really need to buy them?
That’s up to you.
You can get flexible black tubes from Bunnings (a hardware store in Perth) which would cost much less than the fancy perspex ones made especially for ferrets. They do enjoy running through tubes and pipes so if you rig something up in a room for your ferret, it will have a field day going through them.
Kaos enjoys lying on her back on the black ridged pipe in our bedroom and rubbing herself up and down on it. She obviously wants to scratch her back and it’s the easiest way for her to do it by herself. Fidget used to do the same thing in our foot spa!
They love the noise plastic shopping bags make and get all jazzed up when I put them in the bag and rough them up in it. They weasel wardance their way out and have a ball.
WARNING – do NOT leave the bag unattended with the ferret in it. As with children, the ferret can suffocate accidentally so please make sure that you put the bag away once you’ve played with your ferret.
Paper bags are good fun too – the more noise they make, the more fun! And if you have any empty cardboard boxes lying around, ferrets love to investigate those.
Milo loves to steal the dog’s kong from her but he doesn’t play with it. He just runs to the wardrobe and stashes it under my shoe rack. The same with the empty loo rolls – they seem to multiply every day and I wonder where he finds so many to add to the pile. I reckon he’s got a secret stash and just adds to the one in my wardrobe!
WARNING – please remember that polystyrene, bubble wrap, soft rubber or latex toys are dangerous as the ferret can chew bits off and swallow pieces which, in turn, can cause a blockage.
Collars and Bells
You should get your ferret a collar and a bell because it’s always good to know where they are.
Try not to get a bell with large holes as the ferret might get its nail caught in the hole and hurt itself.
Harnesses and Leashes
If you want to take your ferret out for walks, it’s safer to have a harness for it.
Ferrets don’t usually walk along with any sense of enjoyment. They either go really flat and crawl along their belly or they twist and turn, trying to get away and if you just have a leash attached to its collar, the collar might slip off and the ferret could run away from you.
If you find your ferret is reluctant to walk, please don’t drag it along. Pick it up and put it down every so often so that the ferret gets used to the new smells and then you’ll find it will be more eager to explore new territory.
WARNING – if you’re out with your ferret and you see a dog approaching, please pick up your ferret until the dog has passed by.
Looking After Your Ferret
How to Hold Your Ferret
Make sure you always support your ferret in the palm of your hand or on your arm when holding it so that it feels safe with you.
Even if you have to scruff your ferret to cut its nails or give it medicine, let your other hand support its feet.
Bathing Your Ferret
Do not bathe your ferret often as doing so will strip its skin of oil and leave it dry and itchy. Washing it too frequently can also increase the ferret’s odor.
Ferrets have a naturally musky smell and washing will not rid it of that smell. If the smell offends you then perhaps you should rethink the idea of having a ferret as a pet.
Bathing your ferret once or twice a year would be good enough unless, of course, your ferret gets something on its fur which needs to be removed immediately.
Some people take their ferret into the shower and wash them while they’re washing themselves. I wouldn’t recommend doing that as the ferret will certainly start twisting and turning in your hands, and you can drop and hurt it.
The best way to wash a ferret is to fill a basin or sink with warm water, put your ferret in the water, add a small amount of pet shampoo and rub it in gently over the body, avoiding its head. Rinse it carefully under the tap, also with tepid water.
Be aware that some ferrets hate being in water and in their stress will poop in the water.
Do NOT put your ferret’s head under water and certainly don’t think of bathing it if the weather is cold.
Make sure you use a shampoo suitable for ferrets. If you can’t get hold of one, use a shampoo for kittens.
Once you’ve rinsed all the shampoo off the ferret, put it down onto a towel and rub it well then let it go and be prepared for a magnificent display of a maniac ferret! They WILL go berserk!
Wet ferrets are hilarious as they do the most frantic weasel war dance, together with chaotic burrowing under towels and rubbing themselves on anything nearby and that includes snorkeling in the litter box if it’s close by!
Cleaning Your Ferret’s Ears
Ferrets produce wax in their ears and this serves to protect the ear canal and surface. There is no need to clean your ferret’s ears if you see it has reddish-brown wax in its ears.
If you want to remove the wax then use a cotton bud to carefully wipe the area clean but be careful not to push any wax down the ear canal by accident.
If you find that wax is obstructing the ear canal, for whatever reason, put a couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide or an ear cleaning solution for kittens into your ferret’s ear then gently massage the ears. That will soften the wax, and after a couple of days your ferret will remove the wax by shaking its head. Be careful not to get the hydrogen peroxide or cleaning solution into your ferret’s eyes.
If your ferret is scratching its ears or shaking its head constantly, it can mean ear mites and that would require a trip to the vet.
Using Revolution on your ferret regularly will ensure that your ferret won’t be troubled with mites.
Clipping Your Ferret’s Nails
It’s best to keep your ferret’s nails short so that they don’t snag them on their bedding or other material.
Ideally you should have two people involved with clipping their nails – one to hold the ferret, the other to use the clippers.
Scruff the ferret (but make sure its feet are resting on your palm), so that the person cutting can hold the ferret’s paw and clip the nails.
You can use flat nail clippers for people to cut your ferret’s nails, so it’s not essential to buy special animal clippers. However, if you want to, make sure you get clippers for kittens/cats, not ones for dogs, as they’re too big.
Make sure you don’t cut the quick (the pink part of the nail), as that will cause the nail to bleed and will hurt the ferret.
Cut the nails cleanly so that they don’t tear.
Keep styptic powder in your cupboard so that if you do cut the quick accidentally, you can apply the powder and stem the flow of blood.If you need to cut your ferret’s nails and can’t get someone to help you, then put your ferret on your lap on its back and put a blob of Linatone or Nutrigel on its stomach. The ferret will be busy licking that off and you can clip its nails while it’s distracted.
There are a couple of good videos showing how to clip your ferret's nails so if you're a newbie ferret owner and are feeling a little nervous about how to clip your friend's nails, take a look at ...
Eating dry food or chicken wings should keep your ferret’s teeth clean and free of tartar build-up.
However if you notice that your ferret’s teeth are looking dirty, get a cat toothbrush, which is a rubber tube with bristles that fits over your finger, and rub it on its teeth. Do NOT use human toothpaste.
Your ferret will probably squirm and wriggle but hold it firmly and it should get used to the brushing.
If you find that your ferret has bad breath, or a tooth that has turned yellow, or is rubbing its face along the carpet, etc, it’d be a good idea to take it to the vet for a dental check up.
Every ferret owner's nightmare is losing their ferret.
Someone left the door open by accident, or friends of your kids came by and weren't looking down as they went outside so your ferret slipped out as well, or your ferret scratched a hole in the flywire screen and squeezed out ....!
If your ferrets are free range around the house, do head counts often so that you're happy that everyone is accounted for because it stands to reason that the sooner you act if you know your ferret is out, the better the chance of finding it.
For more information about what to do if your ferret goes walkabout, check out the
Lost Ferret page.